Hot streak cools O's overhaul

Wren sees shift to `limited' changes before waiver deadline

GM: Texas series `critical'

Anderson says he won't allow deal to contender

July 27, 1999|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

The Orioles may have played themselves into a wild-card chase and out of a fire sale.

Orioles general manager Frank Wren yesterday confirmed an organizational "shift" in its approach toward conceding this season as lost and dealing away veteran players. Instead, Wren classifies a three-game series beginning tonight against the Texas Rangers as "critical" to the team's decision of who, if anyone, to deal before the waiver deadline arrives at midnight Saturday.

At the same time, center fielder Brady Anderson insists he will not waive the no-trade provision in his five-year, $31 million contract in the event the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox or Atlanta Braves strike a deal with Wren this week.

"I made that decision when I re-signed [in 1997]," Anderson said. "As far as I'm concerned, there is no decision."

Wren's choices are less obvious. An 11-2 surge has allowed the Orioles to move within nine games of the wild card-leading Toronto Blue Jays with 64 games remaining. After a meeting with majority owner Peter Angelos last week, Wren predicted "limited" changes are pending but downplayed the possibility of an overhaul.

"I think we have shifted in some of the plans we talked about in terms of what we would get back," Wren said. "Maybe two weeks ago I would have traded some guys for more future talent whereas now we're not talking about prospects and future talent. Now, for those same guys we want more immediate help."

The Orioles have removed from consideration or hiked the asking price for starting pitchers Scott Erickson and Juan Guzman, reliever Arthur Rhodes and shortstop Mike Bordick. Recent interest in first baseman Will Clark and Harold Baines by the Braves and Blue Jays, respectively, may be stiff-armed if the Orioles maintain or improve their standing entering the weekend.

"Things could change very quickly," Wren said. "We've got to be aware of our record, how far out we are and which direction we're going. I think the next three days are critical."

Though trying to overcome a disappointing 45-53 record, the Orioles rank second in the league to the Cleveland Indians with a .286 team average, first in defense with 57 errors and have dramatically improved as a pitching staff since the All-Star break. The rotation has surrendered two earned runs or fewer in 10 of the past 13 games and a maligned bullpen provided seven shutout innings in Sunday's 8-7, 11-inning comeback win against the Anaheim Angels.

"You look at offense, pitching, relief pitching and defense. When you talk about all four aspects of the game, it's the best all four have been together this season," Wren said.

What had been a shapeless bullpen during the first half now features discernible roles and improved performance by closer Mike Timlin, left-handed specialist Jesse Orosco and Scott Kamieniecki, who Sunday gained his first win since April 18, 1998.

Kamieniecki, who likely will be converted to the rotation if Guzman is dealt, exhibited his best breaking ball since before experiencing last year's spate of injuries.

The Orioles now classify Erickson (6-8, 5.49) as virtually untouchable, joining fellow pitchers Mike Mussina, Sidney Ponson and Jason Johnson on their protected list.

Numerous teams, including the Indians, Rangers, St. Louis Cardinals, San Francisco Giants and Philadelphia Phillies, have shown persistent interest in Erickson. Wren insists they will likely have to look elsewhere. The Phillies, who have made a recent push, are especially handicapped as one of eight teams listed in Erickson's limited no-trade clause.

"With Erickson, we've got three guys who can beat anyone in a short series," Wren said. "Scotty's pitched great recently. We now see him as the guy who was signed last year to a five-year deal and don't want to give that up. With the way he's throwing, I don't see us moving him."

Swept last weekend by the Yankees, the slumping Indians are believed to be more determined in obtaining pitching help. As their wild-card chances wither due to injuries, the Red Sox are desperate to acquire healthy arms.

The Blue Jays are satisfied with their pitching but would be interested in adding a bat such as the Orioles' designated hitter, Baines.

Trading with the Red Sox and Blue Jays, however, represents a concession the Orioles apparently aren't ready to make.

"It gets a little tougher every day as we win 11 out of 13," Wren said. " We're only seven games back in the loss column and we're playing well. I still think there are some things we can do to get players who can help us now as well as in the future."

While the Orioles play the Rangers, the Blue Jays begin a pivotal stretch against the Red Sox and Yankees, against whom they are a combined 1-12.

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